Monday, December 23, 2013

Ama Female Divers, a Korea Japan shared heritage

They are Japanese and Koreans and gather pearls, abalone, turban shells and any kind of delicious seafood from the ocean floor, wearing only a mask! We discover them in Cheju Island, off the southern tip of Korea, which is home to the largest population of Ama (5,000), more than double the entire population of Japanese Ama (2,200). When I first encountered these Ama female divers at Cheju island and later on at Toba, Mie prefecture in Japan, I was absolutely bewildered to see Japanese Ama's resistance and tenacious mindset, some of them over 60 years old and still continuing diving. 

Here they are famous for collecting namako (sea-cucumber) and pearls from oysters. The majority of Ama are women from Japan Ishikawa and Mie prefectures and Korean Cheju island. Ama female divers are to compete for entering the 2015 Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage. "Female divers of Cheju Island have continued with cultural exchanges with Ama divers in the Japan Toba region of Mie Prefecture and the Wajima region of Ishikawa Prefecture writes Akira Nakano of the Asahi shimbun. We can find them all around Japan including on the Pacific coast, near Tokyo in the Chiba prefecture. Spectacular traditional heritage? More than that: "visual acuity, lung capacity and hunter instinct are the defining elements of Ama divers." 

They also know how how to read ocean currents, and keep up with their lifestyle as a reminder that innovative technology is not always what makes a person or a business happier and ever lasting. "This effort [to be recognised by the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage] is critical due to the rapidly ageing population of Ama, most Ama are over 60 years old, and their decline in numbers, a loss of over 80% relative to their peak in the 1950’s. Some local "Ama" associations consist of only a handful of divers and may disappear entirely in the next few years..." But younger generations have now taken the challenge to maintain and revive what is a more than a 2000 years old activity. They are the real "free divers."

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